By Janet Bands – Teacher and Mentor Cell: 072 688 6800
Do you often hear your pre-school child or your friend’s or family’s pre-school child talking to an Imaginary friend (made-up person?) To you or another person it may seem as though the child is talking into thin air. If told that there is nothing there, the child will often respond in a defensive manner by stating that the so-called imaginary friend is invisible.
An imaginary friend, the opposite of an imaginary enemy, is, in most cases, a made-up person, animal or character created in the pre-school child’s mind. Despite the friend being unreal, the child will act as if the imaginary playmate is physically present by talking to it, playing with it or even attempting to feed it. The peak age for invention of imaginary playmates is three and a half years and can often be the creation of children of a slightly superior intelligence and often those who have no siblings or friends.
An imaginary playmate affords great pleasure to a child because he can control his “friend” and arrange for both his cooperation and admiration. Sometimes a child requests his parents to supply toys or treats for his imaginary playmate, but his thoughtfulness somehow seems to result in the final benefit to himself. Often the make-believe friend is a scapegoat whom the child blames for his own misbehaviour and strict parental standards sometimes are the basis for this practice.
No harm is done when a child creates an imaginary playmate and he usually disappears when the child starts school and exchanges his private world for the real one. Parents should not be worried about their child having an imaginary friend as it often helps the child realize the difference between reality and fantasy as well as give them some form of self-esteem. However as the child gets older he may know that his friend is imaginary but he might be bored or have seen imaginary friend-related items on TV.
Opportunities for the child to play with children his own age should be arranged long before this. They will then realise that their friend is fictional. Parents need not act as though they believe the imaginary friend actually exists but neither should they ridicule the child’s play. If they do they may force him to resort furtively to the satisfactions of fancied companionship.